I’ve talked in the past about how installing the latest available drivers for any given old graphics card, could occasionally not be the best idea.
Today I decided to test my cards again with a new game for the benchmark suite – MDK2. It is one of the most demanding tests included, especially since the only other OpenGL game I’ve got is Quake 2, which is not that difficult to run nowadays. It is, in fact, demanding enough that on default settings you need 15MBs just for textures. Most old cards won’t have that much, but AGP texturing is obviously an option. Except when it’s not…. and also when it should be, but it isn’t.
My first test brought me to benchmark the STB Velocity 128, using the proprietary drivers with OGL support. As it turns out, it wasn’t a good idea. After one hour of suffering, I got my results: 0.36fps. Clearly there was something wrong. Attempting again with the newest universal drivers, I got a far more acceptable 27.8fps, albeit with some transparency issues. Most likely, the older drivers were unable to use system memory for textures. The score was effectively the same on the 128ZX in spite of its halved bus width and SDRAM, proving that the game wasn’t really using the card’s onboard memory at all. Though I suspect something else was at play too – other cards similarly unable to use system memory, still got better results (for example, the SiS 6326 8MB reached 2.2fps even though it should be slower than a Riva).
Moving onto the oft-maligned Trident Blade 3D, I initially noticed a similar behavior – horrendously slow framerates. This didn’t make sense, since I knew the Blade 3D was supposed to support AGP texturing just fine. I once again tried reverting to an older drivers set, which wasn’t so easy to find. Just about every site around will offer only the 6.50.5452-95 drivers, which are the latest ones. After a while, I was able to dig out these 6.50.5452-73 ones, which may sound similar but are really one year older. And now MDK2 works. Well, somewhat. While it’s now acceptable on 800×600 (though an average of 19fps isn’t anything to write home about), other resolutions will cause huge CPU frametime spikes for no apparent reason. Anyway, still better than 0.3fps. And the older drivers also gave me slightly better framerates in Quake 2, even though the OpenGL ICD included was supposedly still in beta, and solved some picture quality issues in Final Reality and Shadows of the Empire!
It’s a shame these drivers were hidden in the depths of the internet. The most commonly found ones tend to have more issues. I don’t think many people will care about old video cards anymore, but just in case there are other weirdos like me around, they oughta remember not to stop at what you see on the surface.
In other news, I’ve just ordered an Oxygen GVX1, which of course will need to go through the entire benchmark suite. Let’s hope I can do that without swapping drivers between tests.
(note: I’m now morally obligated to write a Destiny reference in every post title)
I’ll bore everyone with a second anime post, potentially the last one since it’s almost over now. Aikatsu Stars has been more interesting than I expected, at least its second season, and even though there was a whole lot of fillers and plotholes and generally many mistakes that only an anime for little girls could afford to make, I’ve still grown to care about the Venus Ark characters. And those characters will probably get their closure next week, leaving me with three episodes of wrap-up I won’t care all that much about.
Even so, I should at least write this last post with my predictions about how everyone could get a satisfying conclusion to their character arcs. It makes more sense to write it now that it hasn’t happened yet, rather than simply comment next month on what will have happened. My prediction will inevitably be wrong, but also probably be better than whatever we’re going to get, because we all know my ideas are amazing.
Many seem to believe the S4 selection will be the main focus, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense now we are so close to the end. The selection will probaby just be the backdrop against which the various characters will get the closure they deserve (?).
Laura will accept the offer to study overseas. At this point, it’s better if the writers avoid having her partecipate in another S4 selection just to lose again. Failure is the greatest teacher, but there’s only so much you can learn by failing repeatedly. If they play their cards right, they could even have an entire episode dedicated to her departure before the selection. This would leave Yume without a rival, making hers an easy victory, but with the whole shtick about the Moon Dress, chances are she’ll still have a goal to strive towards.
One of the Venus Ark girls could transfer to Four Stars, and become the new Dance Class S4. I’d bet on Aria, since she fits the dancing theme more than the others, also that way she could stay around her beloved senpai. VA is disbanding anyway, so she has to go somewhere. It’s not like she couldn’t keep in contact with the other three. And besides, no way they are ever going to make Haruka Ruka into a big deal. It just won’t happen.
Mahiru already had her character fully explored. I feel there isn’t anything else they could do with her. Whereas Koharu dreams of becoming S4, like Yume did back then… even so, I could never see her win the spot unless Mahiru specifically gets out of the way. Maybe she’ll leave too? For example, join her sister in France to widen her horizons… and maybe accompany Laura? See, that Black Star producer spoke french. Perhaps Laura is going around those parts too. Having Mahiru and Laura leave together might soften the blow of the latter’s departure. I know Laura is bravely chasing her ambitions and all, but feeling alone in the Aikatsu world is the most depressing thing ever. Hard times become easier when you have at least a friend around you (oh god, that sounds so corny). And it would make my crack pairing actually possible. Win-win.
Yuzu and Lilienne… alas, they have been effectively useless since the start of season 2. I can’t see them or their relationship being explored any further. They’ll probably just get a couple minutes of screentime and that’s it. Too bad for them, but Lily has been pretty much comic relief for the last 50 episodes and Yuzu has been barely present at all. Let’s not prolong their suffering any further.
Ako and Kirara are already an unofficial couple at this point, but Kirara must either leave Elza and stay with her, or leave Ako and stay with her mistress. The former would be cute, but to what purpose? I can’t see her leaving Elza after all that’s happened (Aria was at least newer, and already had ties with Hime). She is more likely to stick around Elza even after VA is dismantled. That way, Ako would get to keep FuwaFuwa Dream for herself, and maybe even inherit Kirara’s SPR. I’m not too worried about the two’s relationship. True friendship transcends distance (and now I’m sounding even cornier). And remember at one point Kirara took a freaking private jet from New York just to partecipate in some variety show for little kids. Modern travel systems must be that good. They could still see each other whenever they want. Maybe they have even mastered teleportation.
On a side note, all of this means the new S4 would be Yume, Koharu, Aria and Ako. Which mirrors the M4 of Subaru, Asahi, Nozomu and Kanata… as well as the currently suggested ships. That will make the shippers happy, even if it’s not further explored at all, just with the potential of it. Isn’t it all about the shipping after all?
Oh yeah. Talking of ships. Elza and Rei have been the most important characters this season. But I guess they will just sail off into the sunset together. Maybe even re-enact that Titanic scene. Nobody can tell what will happen to them, or Kirara for that matter, but not everyone’s future needs to be explored thoroughly. Sometimes, a vague (yet assuredly bright) future is a better proposition.
And a vague future is all we have ourselves too, with Aikatsu Friends looming on the horizon and very little info available, barely one month until its premiere. I will be checking it out for sure, but I don’t know whether I’ll stick with it yet. In a way, like Machi two years ago, Aikatsu Stars was a big investment for me, bigger than I initially expected, and one that I don’t feel quite ready to replace. Also, I’ll confess that none of the character designs for Friends seem interesting enough, at least so far.
But we’ll see about that when the time comes. For now, we should just make the most of next week and the rest of the month. After all, like I said, my predictions can only be 101% wrong, so I will be surprised for sure.
And maybe that’s why I’ve stuck around for so long: even in its overall predictability, somehow Stars has managed to surprise me all the way through.
Life goes on as it has always done, and so does my testing. Occasionally, I manage to find something interesting, such as this Riva 128 which had been abandoned in a waste management center. Might as well give it a new home.
I already have a Riva 128ZX, but it was disappointing. Bad results in Direct3D and even in OpenGL left me somewhat cold. Some research, however, showed that the ZX came in two flavors: slower 64-bits SDRAM and faster 128-bits SGRAM. The former was much more common, meaning that you are more likely to find it around today. For comparison, the original Riva 128 was limited to 4MB, but always SGRAM. That alone wouldn’t explain the quality issues, though, since my tests were way worse than I expected. So I thought it could be a drivers issue, and tried the same universal drivers available on the Nvidia website. Indeed, same problems. But here comes STB to the rescue.
As it turns out, this specific Riva 128 is a STB Velocity 128, a fairly common model of its time. And STB made its own drivers for the card. Which I managed to find. I forgot the website, alas, but I downloaded them already. So now they are safe for posterity. After some extensive testing, I did find one useful set: drivers 0132 give me the best Direct3D quality and speed overall.
Only one problem then: OpenGL support is not available. For that, you gotta use the newer 0166 drivers, and those have the exact same issues in D3D as the latest drivers on Nvidia’s website, if not worse. Anyway, OpenGL works well with those, so I was able to test Quake 2 and still get much better framerates than the ZX, which at this point I’m assuming is because of the latter’s SDRAM memory. Unfortunately, with just 4MB of video memory, 1024×768 is never an option. But arguably, this wasn’t the kind of card you’d have wanted to run at anything higher than 800×600 anyway.
I wish I was able to test the ZX with those same 0132 drivers, but there’s a hardware check: when I tried to install the drivers, it let me do it, but then refused to boot Windows 98 due to “wrong hardware”. Crafty. I had to remove the drivers from safe mode. Either way, I’m guessing the scores would have been appreciably lower, just like in Quake 2.
One weird thing: the newer drivers show multitexturing among the available features, although obviously the card cannot support it. With the STB drivers, this wasn’t the case. Perhaps Nvidia added it at the very end of the Riva’s life to make it more appealing to the average consumer. Or maybe the drivers will manage textures to reduce the workload for the CPU. I’m not sure.
And while the STB drivers don’t have the same issues with subpixel accuracy and mipmapping, filtering is still lacking and trilinear is of course absent. So the card has its limits, to be sure. But at least this experience goes to futher show that, on older grapgics cards, drivers could make all the difference.
Now, what is my next card going to be? Maybe another trip to the waste management center tomorrow will show me the way…
Remember when I tried the SiS 6326 C3 and it sucked? Well, I ultimately decided to test the C5 revision as well. I actually found one still in its box. The stuff people keep around these days… it has its drivers disc (only includes version 1.23, so pretty useless today) and even a small user manual.
So let’s look at the facts. The C3 revision had its fair share of issues, chiefly some horrible perspective correction and warping polygons. After completing my tests, I can say that these are mostly gone here. I say mostly, because it’s still not as good as some other cards… but considering the price, it’s not that bad.
One quick look at the manual would show the line “Supports 4MB SGRAM memory configurations”. Suspicious. My model is supposed to have 8MB. And it is. Except that, as it turns out, no game will run at anything above 800×600, choking on Out Of Memory errors. Digging around the net, I discovered that some people believe the SiS 6326 can’t actually access more than 4MB. That seems to be true. It would mean everything else after that amount can’t be used as framebuffer and becomes texture memory. My tests, again, seem to corroborate this theory. Having an 8MB card is useful though, because unlike my 4MB card, it doesn’t drop any textures. And let’s face it, the 6326 is slow as a snail so you wouldn’t really wanna run on 1024×768, even in the simplest games.
I was also able to find a specific “High Angle” driver (yes, that’s the version, it doesn’t have a number) that manages to support OpenGL in Quake 2 (about as badly as you’d expect) and somehow allows 3DMark 99 to run on its default settings. Speed is just as bad as always, perhaps slightly faster than before, but not in any appreciable manner. It’s really all about the improved image quality. Still, OpenGL manages to make it even worse.
Strangely, the card seems to use the same refresh and resolution timings as the newer SiS 305, rather than those used by the previous 6326 model. Maybe some things were changed in between.
With its outstanding issues fixed, the 6326 is a little bit faster than a Rage IIc and even a bit more reliable. For 1998 however, one year after the original (buggy) 6326 was released, it was just too slow, no matter how small your budget may have been. It sure sold a lot though. I wonder how many people bought one, just to discover that it was the true successor of the graphics decelerator? Good times indeed.
A new year arrives, and with it, new resolutions! New goals in life! nah, not really, it’s still the same as always. Somebody has to think about old graphics card, and that somebody is obviously me. I even got several more cards in the last couple months. I’m reaching a point where my collection is nearly complete, although some expensive models are obviously missing. I doubt I’ll ever find a PowerVR for cheap. Oh, why did I sell mine years ago? I’m so dumb.
One thing I’ve been noticing lately, is how every chip maker had their own approach to dithering. Back in the days, obviously, fillrate was a precious resource and 32-bits rendering was essentially out of the question for all but the simplest of games. This generally changed with new techniques like Ati’s Hyper-Z, but until that, most people aiming for a mid-end or low-end graphics card were likely going to play games on 16-bits color depth. And that meant either color banding, or some kind of dithered approach. Or maybe nothing, Matrox was pretty good at this, but a few other cards apparently weren’t.
I fear WordPress compression will ruin the images, so I linked on Imgur. Just click on them for the full PNG picture.
What you see above is a fine example of 32 bits rendering (taken on a SiS 315L, but it makes no difference really). See any color banding? Any dithering? Of course you don’t. There’s 16 million colors up there after all, alpha channel not included.
But alas, that many colors aren’t easy to sustain. I guess we’ll have to settle for 65 thousand colors instead.
I suppose there is only so much you can do without MILLIONS of colors. Even so, the Kyro 1 turns in a decent effort. Dithering is visible on the upper right corner, and a bit on the ground too, but this isn’t too shabby. Ideally, if all cards looked like this, it would be great.
Now keep in mind the Kyro would easily power true colors in an old game like Incoming, but this is just science. Sorry Kyro, you get the same playing field as everybody else. And I hate that your drivers make my PC crash half the time and you can’t even run certain DOS games without fatal errors. So there.
This second picture comes from a Radeon VE, a quite popular budget card of the time, which somehow had three TMUs even though most games never needed more than two textures at once. Fine engineering choice there. Anyway, it wasn’t the only one, because as you can see from the screenshot above, 16-bits rendering wasn’t especially nice.
The noise is evident everywhere, but especially on the metal plate and the portion of sky on the upper right. The distant mountains even show some clear color banding. I would even say this could be actually running in 256 colors, but that isn’t the case. I’ve tried with a couple different sets of drivers, and tinkered with all the options I could find in the settings panel, but to no avail.
I should mention that the Radeon VE came out in 2001, so it’s not even that ancient. The Radeon SDR (which I’ve acquired recently) seems to have the same problem, too, even though it’s technically a different chip. The Rage 128, on te other hand, was better. Weird. This kind of stuff would have been unacceptable in 2000 already, so what’s up with it? No old review seems to make any mention of this problem – were they all playing in 32 bits? I find it hard to believe, especially for a budget card.
But as bad as the Radeon was, it still wasn’t as bad as the SiS 315 (yes, that same card which I used to take the 32-bits picture, funny what a difference a few bits can make). Alright, so very few people actually even played games on this card, although the number of units available on eBay would easily make you think otherwise. Maybe a lot of people had them in office computers… but it’s the same thing, really.
Anyway, if anyone actually played on this card, and I doubt they were able to use 32-bits colors because of relatively measly specs for its age (simply dual pipelines, and even trilinear incurs a substantial drop in speed), then they would have been greeted by the mess you see above. Vertical lines everywhere – and color banding too? Look at the sky and weep.
Worth noting that, of the three cards on test today, the SiS 315L is the only one unable to really sustain true color rendering. It’s a a cheaper variant of the 315, which already wasn’t a speed monster in itself, Incoming already falls down to an average of 44fps in 800x600x16 (would be more without Vsync, but i couldn’t find a way to disable it and besides it’s not like you actually want tearing while playing). But even the Radeon shouldn’t be excused, since several old games only ever supported 65k colors – and from those, there’s no escaping the dithering patterns.
It wasn’t really something I ever tried to notice in my tests, but now something as evident as these two cards has come along, I can’t unsee it anymore. It will be something to notice in future cards as well.
I don’t often talk about anime, and for a good reason: I don’t watch as much anime as I used to. Still, sometimes I do, and now there’s something I gotta say, if only to get it written down before my brain forgets.
The post below will require knowledge about Aikatsu Stars, and you should havew watched the latest episode (86). If you don’t follow it, it won’t make sense. If you do, well, it probably still won’t make sense. It’s an anime for little girls, after all. But anyway.
The episode opens with Kirara and Aria training for the Aikatsu tournament. Except that their training consists in random exercises while wearing headbands. That’s something a gag character would do, not two of the favorites for the finals. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ako doing it, but… oh wait, turns out she was the one who advised Kirara. Yeah, you know you are screwed when you need to rely on Ako for advice.
Rei is glancing at them from a distance, her expression one of both admiration and pity, as if to say: A for effort, girls, but you won’t get anywhere like that. So much is her pity, in fact, that she immediately calls for Elza to give them some actual advice, before they plunge down to the bottom of the ranking.
Elza has no time for her, though, leaving Rei reeling and confused. Maybe she can join the other two in their cheerleading lessons.
Tongue in cheek comments aside, the above seems mostly true, and it does show that Venus Ark is disintegrating from within. The entire place revolves around Elza, and without her, it won’t last long. This goes for everyone, but especially so for the three sidekicks, since they depended on Elza more than anybody else (I’m sure the others did too, but they are irrelevant to the story as of now).
Kirara has undergone some serious character development lately, but even so, she’s still clearly dependant on others: now that Elza is not around, she’s just clinging to Ako (both figuratively and literally, as seen above). She might have learned to stand up for herself, but it’s doubtful that she can do any serious training without Elza’s advice. Her activities with Aria feel like she’s throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.
Aria just boarded Venus Ark on the premise of Elza being amazing (she’s always fangirling around Yume, so if she still boarded the ship in spite of that, it means Elza must be seriously amazing for her)… and then, not even three episodes later, Elza doesn’t care about her anymore. A darn shame. So now she’s the new girl, doing new activities in a place where she probably doesn’t know anyone. Must be bad for morale, even if underneath she’s still her chirping usual self. No surprise she tries to be around Yume as much as possible. At least Kirara has taken her under her wing. They are both in need of company now, I have no doubt their mood would be a lot darker now if they didn’t support each other.
Rei on the other hand, even around Kirara and Rei, must be feeling more lonely than anyone else. Of the three of them, she was obviously the one who relied on Elza the most. And now Elza doesn’t care. Go figure. Thinking about it, she had noticed for a while now. Her phone call must have been a last-ditch attempt to get Elza out of the dumpster by reigniting her original talent – coaching girls to become better idols. It didn’t work, and now she’s left to fend for herself. “If you think they need advice, do it yourself”. Good going, Elza, but Rei doesn’t know the first thing about giving advice to anyone.
As things stand now, the Venus Ark crew is heading down a spiral they can’t possibly recover from by themselves. Where next? Either Elza comes to her senses and takes the lead again, or Yume and co. will need to teach them to fend for themselves. Or maybe both. Anyway, I don’t care all that much about Elza, but the K/R/A trio has been growing on me and it’s annoying to see them self-destruct just because their goddess figure didn’t get enough love as a child.
There are still several episodes to go, including some Christmas and New Year ones. Feels a bit weird to have a Christmas episode on the wake of Elza going full crazy, but I suppose it was intentional. Maybe she’ll join the festivities too. And then things will get in motion again soon. At some point, the humiliation conga will start. The way she’s been written, it’s effectively guaranteed. Too bad for her.
The project I mentioned yesterday ended today, after a long tirad… effort. I didn’t exactly get everything I wanted from it, in fact, we could say I simply proved my old theory from 7 years ago. Nonetheless, it was a difficult process and one worth explaining, if only to understand what I was hoping to achieve and why.
I’ll assume you are familiar with Baroque at least. If not, here’s the gist of it: roguelike where you must do a bunch of things and kill some characters to proceed. The last bit is exactly what I was trying to avoid. What’s the point of saving the world (kinda, ehm) if not everybody is there to congratulate me? And so I set up to look for ways to sequence break the game, and finish it without killing anyone.
Getting into the inner workings of the story would be too long. Essentially the progression goes like this:
Complete the tower once – tower goes down to 17 floors
Kill Longneck to get his crystal
Use Longneck’s crystal to disable the Sentry and get Your crystal
Trigger a confession cutscene
Give Your crystal to Eliza – tower extended to 22 floors
Get the Littles’ crystal – tower extended to 24 floors
Give the Littles’ crystal to Alice – tower extended to 32 floors
Complete the tower again
I’m trying to avoid step 2, and that’s what I did years ago thanks to my trick – exploitation of Hungry Boxes.
The game seems to work with event flags. Since you can restart the game at any time, you could conceivably keep those crystals from the last playthrough, restart the game, and do all kinds of sequence breaking. In order to avoid that, the game doesn’t allow you to store crystals. All items, except crystals. Clever enough, but the developers didn’t count for one thing – you can use a certain box item to “eat” your crystals, then store that, and open it in the next playthrough. Guaranteed to work.
It is a trick commonly used in the PS2 remake to bring items not allowed in certain challenge dungeons, such as swords or coats, and I used it to try and break the game. Of course, the devs still won’t make it easy for you, albeit perhaps unintentionally. Let’s take a look at the process.
The Hungry Box is a kind of box that eats one, and only one, of your items. No other boxes can do that, so you specifically need that… except that it can only be found in the Hell Challenge Dungeon. Sounds ominous? It is. What’s worse, there are no consciousness orbs to transfer your box back, even when you do manage to get it.
That’s where the Me Brand comes in. Put a Me Brand on the box, and it will be “marked”. Upon your death, which will surely happen because you have to immediately drop all your items and equipment upon getting the box (lest they get eaten and your box becomes useless), on your next life, the item will be available to pick up on the first floor of the tower. Nice. Of course, now you have to run all the way down to BF4, where the closest consciousness orb lies, without picking up any item and possibly avoiding monsters. If you can do that, you’ll have a nice Hungry Box, ready to use, stored in your collection.
You’ll also want a Defusal Parasite. The Hungry Box has a very high chance of exploding upon opening, and I believe the game decides whether it will blow up or not upon picking it up for the first time. If the box explodes, you’ll lose the crystal inside, and you don’t want that. So look around for a Defusal parasite – which only appears at random. Sorry. Never said it was easy.
Once you have it, let the box eat your crystal, defuse it with the parasite, and store it. Done!
Some years ago, this method let me store Longneck’s crystal, so I could show it to the Sentry Angel without killing Longneck. From there, the game unfolded as usual. It also let me prove that there are some event flags in the game still – Eliza won’t accept Your crystal until Longneck has at least buried himself. So I had limited success, but it was a breakthrough nonetheless.
Then I had an idea: what if I could skip Longneck’s crystal altogether, and just use Your Crystal and the Littles’ Crystal to finish the game already?
So, I got myself two Hungry Boxes, two Defusal Parasites, and the crystals I needed. And then I went about the tower again, of course after waiting for Longneck to bury himself, as I had already proven that much cannot be avoided.
First signs are encouraging: Eliza will accept your crystal and extend the tower. The problem comes later, as the confession cutscene apparently cannot be triggered if you haven’t entered the lab in order to get Your crystal. That’s annoying. So I try a different approach: let’s give the Littles’ crystal to Alice before the 22nd floor.
She accepts it and disappears. That’s good, it’s what is supposed to happen near the end of the game, except we’re not near the end of the game. Then I reach B20F, and the Littles’ won’t let me enter their chamber. And then I arrive on B21F and the Archangel talks to me like I’m going to finish the game now.
But I still only get the Painless Man cutscene, not the ending. Too bad.
So was the Baroque Survival Project a failure? A little, because I really wanted to keep everyone in good shape. But in the end, my first success might have been enough – I managed to save Longneck from death (even though he becomes a vegetable) and the Sentry Angel doesn’t really die in the story in the first place (even though he becomes a vegetable). I suppose I already met my goals years ago.
At least I now know the extent to which one can break Baroque. And a vegetable is better than a corpse anyway.